Liberty Public House Restaurant Review in Rhinebeck: American Comfort Food and Dining in Dutchess County

Celebrating the past: An old-time setting matches the American comfort fare at Liberty Public House in Rhinebeck

The Starr Institute in Rhinebeck has housed several restaurants over the years, including a Mexican joint and an American bistro aptly named Starr Place, which closed a couple of years ago. It’s a stately, 1860 Gothic Revival building, with high ceilings and handsome woodwork and trim. In its newest incarnation as Liberty Public House, it’s billed as “a renaissance tavern” — not a fancy-pants gastropub or a bar serving American eats, but a welcoming spot where you can sup and imbibe in surroundings that evoke the hostelries of 150 years ago, only with electricity.

Patricia Panarella, who serves as hostess, launched Liberty late last year with her son, Sergia Rebraca. Panarella is also the innkeeper of the sumptuously done-up Belvedere Mansion in Staatsburg. (Her husband’s contribution to Rhinebeck’s dining scene is the Provencal-style Arielle on Market Street, as well as the specialty food store, Tavola Rustica.) With this newest endeavor, Panarella and Rebraca — who trained in textile and surface design — have gone to town, celebrating Americana in spades.

The menu, created by executive chef Roberto Mosconi (who is also behind the food at Arielle), offers old-fashioned comfort fare, but with today’s more health-conscious Americans in mind. You’ll find potato pancakes, oyster po’boys, and grilled catfish tacos for starters, with spicy garlic shrimp on hominy grits, short ribs, and fettuccini Alfredo among the mix of mains. I’m not sure that Peruvian-spiced rock hen with yellow rice and beans was being dished up in taverns in the 1800s, but why nitpick? The version we saw being ferried to a neighboring table looked pretty tasty, and so did the meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

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liberty public houseRaise the flag: Liberty’s dining room decked out in patriotic glory

I’m a sucker for that pubby vibe, so I love the look of the bar room with its high-backed green wooden booths and wainscot. Vintage photographs, old engravings, kerosene lanterns and a slew of memorabilia fill the space, so there’s no shortage of visual stimulation. Rebraca moved the bar, which used to face an interior wall, to a space between two windows, where it fits perfectly. “That happened so often when we were building the place, it was serendipitous,” he remarks. Bar stools are covered in a vintage horse blanket; one features leftover snippets pieced together. (“We call that the lucky stool,” Rebraca says.)

There’s a similar profusion in the dining room, where a huge, 48-star flag covers one wall, and smaller ones nod at it from around the room. Blue and white jars, white ironstone, and a lush arrangement of blue hydrangeas sit on a farm table in the middle of the space. Red leather banquettes, red covers on the chair backs, and dark blue napkins keep the patriotic color scheme going. Federal-style mirrors, engravings of Civil War scenes, stuffed birds, and horns and antlers of all kinds cover the walls. Those at a loss for conversation can play guess the animal.

In fair weather, you can eat on the porch or in the garden — where a 23-foot sailboat, nailed to the patio, serves as a bar and the decorative touches lean toward seafaring. There’s live music and dancing on weekends in the speakeasy-style lounge downstairs. If you can’t find a spot to match your mood here, you’re in a very bad mood.

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gravlaxHouse-cured gravlax and caviar rests on a sour cream-topped potato crêpe

We settled into the dining room, and our prompt, helpful (and cute) server presented us with warm, rosemary buttermilk biscuits to nibble while we looked over the menu. A reasonably priced selection of wines includes varieties from local vineyards; my glass of Millbrook Chardonnay was a generous pour.

“Liberty: in the pursuit of happiness,” the menu declares. We decided to kick off our pursuit with a kale salad on the theory that eating something super-healthy evens out whatever naughty food you eat afterwards. This was curly kale rather than the Tuscan type, and rather overdressed with white balsamic, so the lovely bits of dried cherries and pistachios didn’t sparkle as much as they might have, but it was good all the same.

Devils on horseback (stuffed dates wrapped in bacon) were a favorite savory course when people served such a thing at dinner. More recently, you’d see them impaled on a toothpick and passed around at cocktail parties, but they’re rare on menus. Presented on a footed pewter-esque stand, these were a treat, the dates stuffed with tangy blue cheese, wrapped in bacon and broiled — crisp, soft, salty, and sweet all at once.

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It’s almost heresy to admit, but neither of us cares much for mac and cheese, nursery favorite and well-known hangover cure though it is. But my other half went for the truffled version anyway, and enjoyed it far more than he was expecting to. “Civilized cheese, properly cooked mac, and just enough truffled sauce to make you feel like a grown-up,” he announced as he polished it off. My beer-battered cod was lifted above the commonplace by a tangy tarragon-lemon aïoli to dunk it in. Sweet potato fries were a nice touch, too.

toffee puddingToffee pudding

Desserts included temptations like bourbon crème brûlée and hot chocolate molten cake, but seeing the words “warm sticky toffee pudding” on the menu sent a shiver of nostalgic delight through me. It’s a classic British dessert, a moist date cake, topped with a sauce made with lashings of brown sugar. How often can you bookend your dinner with a date dish? The sticky toffee puddings of my distant girlhood were darker and stickier, if memory serves, but this was a velvety, lip-licking job anyway. A small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a blackberry and mint leaf as garnish were fancy flourishes that made it double yummers, as we used to say.

I wish the weary busboy had waited for us to leave before he snuffed out the candles on the big table in the middle, but we felt sated and happy as Panarella bid us goodbye and we toddled out into the misty night.

Liberty Public House
Open daily for lunch and dinner; until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Starters $6-$12; mains $16-$28; desserts $8.
6417 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck

» Visit Liberty Public House in Rhinebeck, NY
» Visit Liberty Public House in Rhinebeck, NY’s Web site at
» Visit Hudson Valley Dining Guide for more local restaurants
» Visit Food & Drink Guide for more local dining services


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